Posted on January 6, 2014
Sometimes eating something natural is not good for you after all. Carrageenans are a family of polysaccharides (carbohydrates, like starches) that come from edible seaweeds that form gels or jellies. They are used as a food additive to thicken or gelatinize processed food products and have no nutritional value. They are most commonly used in alternative dairy products, like soy milk or yogurts, as a thickener in order to mimic the texture of whole milk. But, carrageenans are also used in many food products, including infant formulas, pet foods, beers, soft drinks and diet drinks, chocolate milk, ice cream and more. Its use in beverage products could be completely eliminated if companies printed “Shake Well” on their packages, since carrageenan essentially makes sure liquids remain mixed. Outside of food, carrageenans are used in products such as cosmetics, shampoos, shoe polishes, personal lubricants, and the foams they use to put out fires.
Despite having been approved for use in the food industry by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, the current science regarding the safety of carrageenan is suggesting that the food quality carrageenan, ungraded carrageenan, is actually not safe for human consumption. Dr. Joanne K. Tobacman, M.D., an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, has conducted over 18 peer-reviewed research studies on undegraded carrageenan. Her research is demonstrating that undegraded carrageenan is linked with cancers and other inflammatory stomach problems and is convinced that all forms of carrageenan are harmful to human health. In April of 2012, Dr. Tobacman made a plea to the National Organic Standards Board on this issue and urged the board to reconsider allowing the use of carrageenan in organic foods, stating that undegraded carrageenan causes inflammation in our bodies when consumed.
This is bad news. We know that chronic inflammation is a root cause of many serious diseases including; heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
In the past, drug investigators actually used carrageenan to cause inflammation in tissues in order to test the anti-inflammatory properties of new drugs. When laboratory mice are exposed to low concentrations of carrageenan for 18 days, they develop “profound” glucose intolerance and impaired insulin action, both of which can lead to diabetes.
Given the current research and information, I would strongly recommend avoiding all carrageenans. This is especially important for people with auto-immune conditions, cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases, and pregnant women.
Here’s how to cut carrageenan from your diet: Scan the label. Carrageenan must legally appear on a food label, so check labels of even organic foods to see if it’s an ingredient. While organic foods ban the use of GMOs, chemical pesticides, and toxic synthetic additives, the program does allow carrageenan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board isn’t set to vote on removing it from organics for four more years. Speak up. Sign the Carrageenan Petition to the FDA to let the federal agency know you don’t want this ingredient in the food chain. Check the list. The Cornucopia Institute created a Buying Guide to help you shop carrageenan-free products. Vallaeys says the good news is companies like Stonyfield Farm, So Delicious, Eden Foods, and Oregon Ice Cream are voluntarily working to reformulate carrageenan-free products.